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Hitchhiker’s Guide to O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing

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by Florrie Binford Kichler

Debate over the future of the book vs. whether the book has a future was the overriding theme of 2 and a half days of programming at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference. Keynotes featured presenters with perspectives as varied as Canadian best-selling author Margaret Atwood, who cautioned publishers not to forget their “primary source” (the author) and Skip Prichard, Ingram CEO, who, in an upbeat and enthusiastic paean to change, warned that we should not let our companies’ pasts get in the way of our companies’ futures.

TOC Soundbites:

• What is a bookseller? According to the independent retailers on a lively Q &A panel on Bookselling in the 21st Century, the role of the bookseller is to curate selection and create a community, online, on land or both, that connects with one another around books. When asked how the indies can compete with the likes of Amazon, Google and Barnes and Noble, the consensus was that they don’t—the small indie offers a very different experience than the large retailers and are not even in the same game when it comes to customer service.

• In a panel of The Future of Ebooks Technology, moderated by Google’s Abe Murray, when asked how digital publishing will change in the next decade the answer was that content will get richer and more interactive, and the number of complementary products will increase. According to Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly, the book will not go away but will continue mutating and evolving.

• We are becoming people of the screen, noted Kevin Kelly from Wired, and screens will continue to proliferate as they become cheaper. Is there any reason then, why screens can’t be bound into book format?

• Jim Fruchterman, in a presentation called “Making the Book Truly Accessible,” spoke of the site he runs called Bookshare that supplies reading material to those who are severely dyslexic, sight impaired, and/or reading impaired. The largest online library for people with print disabilities, the service operates under copyright exception and has reinvented accessibility for books. Only 2 out of every 1000 people have disabilities severe enough to use the site—which means he turns away 998 who have reading disabilities. He invited publishers large and small to partner with him to service those 998. http://www.bookshare.org/

• “What do Ereading Customers Really Really Want?” According to Michael Tamblyn of Kobo, they want fiction, especially romance, sci fi, mystery and romance. Those who read during the day spend more time reading than those who read at night and 8 pm to midnight is ebook shopping prime time. Kobo is constantly collecting data on their customers. Why? To make the reading experience better. If you know the reader, sales will follow.

• In a presentation entitled “Delivery on Demand in the Digital Age,” Laura Baldwin of O’Reilly spoke of how the company is going to a new model of inventory management that works solely with short run printing and POD. Their goal is to have their content be always available, always relevant and never out of stock and they’re partnering with Ingram and LSI in this effort. Adopting the model of low-to-no inventory allows the company to free capital formerly “sitting in warehouses. (Author note: POD has gone mainstream.)

• Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks spoke on “Building the Future from Within-What Transformation Looks like Inside a Publishing Company.” It’s all about the reader, she points out, what does he or she need and how do we as publishers provide solutions. Her company has integrated digital into every department and has a robust app creation program. The challenge for publishers in a digital environment? “The physical book is one and done, digital requires rapid and frequent iteration.”

• In the session, “Game Plan for Going Direct To Your Customers,” the focus was on building your customer database and collecting data so you can know your readers, and making your books available in as many digital formats as possible for the convenience of those readers. According to Dan Wallek from Lerner Publishing, the advantages of forging a direct relationship with your customer is speed to market, increased packaging options (bundling of e and print, for example), and better agility to react to reader needs. He advised selecting a good technical partner and, sticking with your core competency/expertise.

That’s just a small taste of a conference that prides itself on offering a view of the publishing industry through a wide-angle lens with an occasional microscope thrown in. IBPA Publishing University provides a practical publishing education with an occasional wide-angle lens thrown in. Independent publishers need both perspectives.

Brian O’Leary of Magellan Media summed up the takeaway:
“Publishers aren’t in the book business—they’re in the content solution business. We must make a leap away from what we are comfortable with.”

Extensive and detailed TOC coverage may be found at:

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